Slash/Back: Director & Stars Break Down Action Sci-Fi Alien Thriller

In light of the success of Hulu's Predator prequel in Prey comes a sci-fi thriller involving indigenous protagonists in Slash/Back from director Nyla Innuksuk, who co-wrote with Ryan Cavan. The film follows Maika (Tasiana Shirley), Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth), and their friends discover an alien invasion in their tiny arctic hamlet; it's up to them to save the day. Utilizing their makeshift weapons and horror movie knowledge, the aliens realize you don't mess with girls from Pang. With shades of Robert Rodriguez and John Carpenter's The Thing, Innuksuk, Shirley, and Ellsworth spoke to Bleeding Cool about making their feature debuts, influences, and favorite scenes.

Slash/Back: Director & Stars Break Down Action Sci-Fi Alien Thriller
Alexis Vincent-Wolfe, Tasiana Shirley, and Nalajoss Ellsworth in Slash/Back. Image courtesy of RLJE Films & Shudder

Bleeding Cool: Nyla, what was the inspiration behind 'Slack/Back?'
Innuksuk: I grew up loving the kids of adventure movies like 'E.T.' and 'The Goonies.' Those were big inspirations, and as a teenager, I loved horror and sci-fi. When I had a chance to make my first feature, it was exciting to make a movie to reflect the ones I watched as a kid but set in a place that was familiar and special to me.

Nalajoss, Tasiana, how did it feel working on your first movie?
Ellsworth: It's a great and big learning experience. I had such a fun time, and It just felt like the games we play with each other as you do with the family.

Shirley: it was a huge learning experience and something I grew to love. Working with the people around me, like Nalajoss, Chelsea [Prusky], the other cast members, and the acting coach, the experience on set and behind the scenes was a special moment for me. It allowed me to realize how I want to do more film work in the future.

Nyla, I saw some John Carpenter's 'The Thing' vibes, was there any other direct film influences that shaped this film?
In addition to those kids' adventure movies, there were many different inspirations from 'Halloween' or 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' I loved playing with the creatures and skins in moments, but 'The Thing' was a big inspiration. The girls and I saw the movie the night before we started filming at our little sleepover. Growing up, I appreciated its practical effects and applied them as much as possible in my film. We had a fantastic contortionist, Troy James, who did much of our creature work. It was great to have him with the skin suits on set because it was terrifying for some of our actors, and his movements were cool and creepy. I also grew up adoring the 'Scream' movies, and there's a scene where Nalajoss is being chased up the stairs. She has to jump out the window and onto a boat pulled right from it. Going through these movies, I grew up obsessed with and having fun with was fun.

Slash/Back: Director & Stars Break Down Action Sci-Fi Alien Thriller
Nalajoss Ellsworth, Alexis Vincent- Wolfe, and Tasiana Shirley in Slash/Back. Image courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder

Nalajoss, Tasiana, which was more difficult, the dialog or stunt work?
Ellsworth: It was the dialog because, honestly, I'm not that great at talking, and it took me a while to memorize and say my lines correctly and properly.

Innuksuk: Nalajoss was also 11 years old and was co-leading a feature film. She had the most lines of all the characters, and it was a challenging role. She did a fantastic job; her modesty also means she was 11 [laughs].

Nyla, what was the most difficult sequence to film?
The sequence in the crate was the craziest challenge for you because all of our scenes there were scheduled to be shot in one day. It was ten pages, and there was a lot of stuff going on there. We didn't get it that first day [laughs]. Whenever we had breaks in our schedule or found time to return to that crate. In hindsight, I should have planned less in such a tiny space. Another big challenge in making this was getting all of us to this remote community and not having enough lodging. Our cast and crew all lived in the high school and the grade school for the entire summer and the school principals were great for letting us move in. We shipped 60 beds of mattresses and turned every classroom into housing for two people. Everybody had a roommate, and it was like extreme summer camp [laughs].

Nalajoss, Tasiana, were there any particular favorite scenes you filmed?
Shirley, One of my favorite scenes was when Alexis [Vincent-Wolfe's] Jesse and I are having our little altercation about Thomassie [Rory Anawak]. The scene is full of emotion, and I could express my dramatic acting. That was exciting for Alexis and me because of the rage we had to put into those scenes, and we practiced that so much. It was fun to get emotional, but that was my favorite scene.

Ellsworth: Getting chased up the stairs by the alien, playing around, and shoving the bed into the door was just so fun for me.

Slash/Back: Director & Stars Break Down Action Sci-Fi Alien Thriller
RLJE Films & Shudder

Nyla, how do you break down the opportunities as a filmmaker and representation?
It was an ambitious project, and I hadn't directed anything before. To find this support and get this thing off the ground was a real challenge. With my next project, I have to remind myself, "It's going to be hard, but hopefully, it won't be as hard as that first time." The world had changed since when 'Slash/Back' was made. We shot this in 2019, and at the time when I was approaching working with producers that weren't from the Arctic or indigenous themselves, I was talking about how important it was for us with these ideas of authentic representation. Terms we're very used to hearing now but weren't being talked about a lot a few years ago.

We needed to have an all-indigenous cast and crew members. I notice different people are coming in and the way projects are being presented, like having your own be heard rather than being attached more in a token way. It's changing, that's great. I've got so many amazing indigenous director friends who are making the coolest stuff, and it's not genre, drama, or documentary. There's comedy and rom-com, and it's great to see the depth of our stories and the joy as well.

RLJE Films & Shudder's Slash/Back is available in theaters, digital, and on-demand.

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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